Places to Party

Friday, March 27, 2015

Helen's Trousseau

Let me start by saying that I'm no seamtress. I do my best and I think that may have held true for many pioneer women. 

For some, sewing was a joy, for others just another necessary chore. Now that she finally has a body after so many years of just being a head, it's well high time she gets an appropriate accoutrements. So how to dress her?

Well, I decided to dress her in the year of my house was built, 1867. As any lady of the time would have done, I consulted the fashion magazine of the time,
Godey's Lady Book for the year 1867.

I decided she needed a party dress and something in a blue satin or silk to highlight her coloring and her beautiful blue eyes. In looking in the Godey's book it becomes apparent that there had to be some accessories to her dress.

I'm favoring something like this for our friend. Something a little off the shoulder to show a bit of her nameplate. I also like the little girl's trim and may add something to that effect as well.

And then there are always these....


Godey's was not only a fashion magazine but it also gave some clues to construction as it was intended to teach women who may have never had the opportunity to purchase these fashions, how to make them.

Which is as helpful to us today as it was to them to figure out how to construct these garments....

I had no pattern for Helen's dress but I knew I wanted to highlight her molded shirt so I decided to create a "rounded neckline. I made a paper pattern by laying her on the paper and add some space around it.

Then I cut it out and made a back. The back should have been a bit bigger than the front to allow for the outfit to shut, I had to add to mine.

Then we needed to add some interest to the neckline. I made a tube, gathered it and attached it to the neckline, then at intervals, added some ribbon and pretty pearls that I found in my sewing kit.

This is actually the same teal as before, edited it to take out the
yellow tones (I took the image at night) and it shows a bit darker.

So now we needed to add sleeves. I cut out some sleeves a little longer as I was going to have to tuck them in on the ends to finish them. Then I found this lovely wandering vine pattern and decided to add some decoration.
And now the overskirt and skirt. I decided to use the Godey's Lady design for the skirt.
This seemed very easy when you really look at it. Again, pattern reading is key just like it would have been to our Great, Great, Great Grandmothers. Essentially this is an overskirt that has been gathered at intervals, so I did the same with Helen's dress.

Small stitches showing on the front side where key. I ran a long gathering stitch and pulled it up as necessary.  Where I ended, I put a ribbon rose on the front which added d├ęcor but also hid the knot.

Looks a lot like the image above doesn't it?
I did this after work at night so forgive
the horrible lighting conditions.

Now we are going to join the underskirt to the top skirt simply by running a large gathering stitch at the top of both conjoined. I did this by hand as I worked about adding runs to the satin fabric if I did it by machine.

Then I matched it to the bodice we've now made.


And added some trim to her elbows, specifically bows. And now, after about 100 years, our little china miss has a ball gown that she's so very deserving of. I wonder if I should put this on some fashion blogs, what do you think?

Finally all put together.


This shows the full gown a bit better....

This was fun project and one that was definitely on my craft "bucket list". Do you have a craft bucket list? I still need to learn to knit socks and mittens then on to woodworking, and.... 

                                                          Yeah, it never really ends does it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Project #3 Meet Helen


"May I present,

                 Miss Helen....

Lately I've been feeling a little like one of those pervy unsubs from the Criminal Minds TV show.

You see, I've been hunting down arms and legs...trolling EBay for them.

Let me clarify that a bit. China doll arms and legs... 

Let me take you back a LONG time ago.....

I grew up in mid-Michigan and where I grew up there was an historical village built with homes from the turn of the century that were transported to the village and set up. The village had it's own blacksmith shop, merry-go-round, several homes, a general store, an historic train and depot and Stanley School. Every year in my elementary, the third graders would spend an entire day going to that school so we could experience a day in the life of a pioneer child.

We would wear our bonnets and dresses and bring a pail lunch. We would sit in a one room school house and receive our lessons from the teacher. At recess, we could drink from the pump and play games. It was great fun and I spent many a fun time at that village both as a visitor and as a volunteer.
Going to the general store in the village was also a treat. While they sold the obligatory tourist souvenirs, they also had items that were for display only that would have been in the store a hundred years prior. I remember two of them very well, beautiful china doll head dolls sitting high on a shelf. One day, I said to myself, I would have a china head doll like those.

The china head dolls I speak of were the "Barbie" dolls of their day.
These were not the fancy Bru's or Jumeau's that, in general, only wealthier families would have owned, these were, instead, the common china dolls that were accessible to many families at some point.

These dolls came in two main styles, highbrow or low brow. Their hair could be blond, brown or most common, black. Our Helen is a Low brow china doll. It refers to where her hair falls on her face.


About a year ago I decided I wanted to finally purchase a doll but I figured the completed dolls would probably be out of my price range so I would purchase the components and make the doll myself. So when I saw this winsome china doll head named Helen smiling back from the pages of EBay, I knew I had my head. Surprisingly these are available on EBay for not a lot of money. But then to find the arms and legs. Not as easy as I anticipated.
Finally I received them and here is how I went about putting it all together.


There really wasn't any "pattern" per se but, like the pioneer mother's of old, I created one.

I folded a piece of typing paper and made a general pattern shape on one side. Then I folded it and cut it. I did this for the arms and legs as well as the body. Then cut it out of fabric and made sure that the sewn pieces would fit around the china.

I decided that I wasn't going to make Helen like a typical china doll, instead I was going to give her "joints" like a teddybear. In this way, she would be able to sit up and have some positioning of the arms. I also made her with bent arms so that her hands can lay in her lap like a lady should.

After I cut out the doll parts, I sewed all the parts around leaving an opening on the torso and at the end of each appendage to attach the china legs and arms. I turned them inside/out and stuffed them using closed scissors to stuff each piece as full as possible.

The easiest and most cost effective way of making "joints" on your doll is to make "button joints".  Using two buttons per "joint", Put one on the outside of the appendage and one on the inside of the body. Now sew both button together through the thicknesses. This will allow the arm or leg some give to allow them to move as opposed to just flop.

So after sewing the main body in a bracket style to allow me the opportunity to sew these joints. I then finished the body and stuffed it.

The arms and legs were another challenge. After stuffing them they had to be attached. Sometimes you get lucky and there are little holes in each leg or arm so that you can sew through the leg to the other side and directly attach the legs. Unfortunately there is also another way which was what this was set up for where there is a 'channel' in the leg through which you essentially glue the leg onto the cloth. It's not my favorite way as I've got another porcelain doll that I bought years ago and because it's glued, her leg constantly falls off. If I was brave or had another set, I would have attempted to drill a hole through the porcelain but as I did not, I did not want to risk it.

To attach the arms and legs, you start by making a run stitch around the opening and make sure that the appendage fits. Leave a tail so that you can pull it tightly and knot it.


You want a tight fit so sometimes this isn't that pretty. Then run a bead of glue in the channel and place the appendage in the hole. Then pull on the running stitch to secure it and I make several passes around the appendage tying knots in the front, now the back and again in the front. Then let the glue dry.

Stuff securely.

I'm also not sure if these arms are to proportion but that is all I had so that's what we got. So after attaching these, I stuffed the body as tightly as possible as the head is going to be the heaviest part so we need to make sure that the body is going to be secure enough to hold the head.

Stuff with closed scissors. Careful not
to poke through!
Whip stitch securely.

Then we whip stitch or blanket stitch the opening to secure it.

Now for the final ta-da.... Time to give Helen a body again.



Her head has two little holes in the should plate to make it easy to attach. You can either use a large needle and go from to back securing through the hole and under the hole or sew in the front and back of the plate to secure it.

And now our handsome lass has a body once again and one that can move!

Our next endeavor will be to create a dress worthy our hundred year old lady. I do hope when I'm a hundred years old (God willing!) I'll look as good as our friend Helen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Grandma Jessie's Apple Trees

My mother always said that Grandma Jessie said the best apples for pie were Northern Spies. They held their shape and tasted great so every time I can, I search out this variety.

I would love to know where this apple got it's name.

Anyway, Spring is supposedly only 20 days away in the northeast but you'd never know with the evil snow mother nature keeps blanketing us with. So I'm nestled in my warm home dreaming of warmer days of gardens, sun and warmth... and starting the garden planning for this year.

I was able to find my own Northern Spy apple trees through Stark Nursery. I bought two and cannot wait to plant them in the front yard. The apricot tree is going to get bumped off and put in the back somewhere as after ten years it has yet to produce fruit so it hasn't earned it's keep.

I have two sweet cherry trees in the back that I pray make it through this tough winter. One has already been replaced once so I'm crossing my fingers that they both make it. With as much snow as we've had, we should have a good insulated pack to keep them through.

And it is finally time to start the tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos. It takes so long for these to grow from seed that if you don't start them now, they'll never finish fruiting and ripening by the end of summer. Planting your own seeds allow you to experiment with colors, flavors and help to determine when you want your produce to be done. If you taste many different tomatoes, you'll be shocked at the differences in flavors, it's really like wine. Some may be very fruity, some more acidic and some even spicy. You can plant tomatoes in yellow, green, striped, orange, brown, purple and even black. It's so much fun to can what you've grown and see the different colors floating in the jars.

So, summer dreaming on such a winter's day.

Have faith friends, Spring is coming!